15 November 2012

Africa: The Green Climate/Corporate Fund and the Covert Battle for the 'Heart and Soul' of Climate Finance

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Perhaps in order to protest the GCF following in the CIF's large-scale mitigation footsteps one might appeal to the governing instrument of the GCF which states that the GCF should be balanced between needs for mitigation and adaptation. However, just what would qualify as a 'balance' is difficult to tell, as the term is ambiguous - an ambiguity which will most likely be hotly contested, as most ambiguities are within UN spaces.

If past climate finance is anything to go by the balance is certainly not an equal one, with just 15% of overall climate financing going to adaptation in the past according to ClimateFundsUpdate.org. In relation to this backdrop would balance entail continuing this ratio, or would it mean a 50-50 share, or alternatively would balance entail redressing the past unequal ratio between adaptation and mitigation funding? How do we define balance?

If the private sector is allowed to take the helm of the GCF, out from under the wing of the COP, as some are proposing, I fear that the definition of balance will not be defined through appeal to moral principles and the weighing of the interests of both future and current generations, but rather through the interests of private companies who dictate the agenda according to what serves their interests.

And adaptation, for a number of reasons, just is not sexy or very profitable for private interests. Indeed, if we look to a report by the Climate Policy Initiative we see that just 5% of private climate finance goes to adaptation. Furthermore, if the GCF becomes a mitigation-heavy fund, we are in danger of it merely becoming a vehicle through which much of the developed world farms out their responsibility to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to the developing world, while not addressing the current and potential damages and harm caused by the emissions that they have emitted and for the large part continue to emit.

Of course it is clear, as the UNEP Emissions Gap Report illustrates, that as things stand we are failing rather dismally on the mitigation side, such that our current pledges, even if they are fulfilled, will set us on a track of 2.5 - 5 degrees warming by 2100. Thus mitigation is of course important and against this backdrop we have responsibilities to future (and current) generations to develop mitigation.

But against these obligations, we must not forget the obligations to those being affected by climate harms now and in the near future.

According to the Global Humanitarian Forum, headed up by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, climate change is responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and affects 300 million people annually. By 2030, the annual death toll related to climate change is expected to rise to 500,000 and the economic cost to rocket to $600 billion. For those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change (and sadly most often least responsible for causing the harms) adaptation is a priority whether our international political regime recognises it or not.

In sum, the battle for the heart and soul of the Green Climate Fund will most likely be a contested one as the competing visions outlined above play out against each other. As things stand, Omar El-Arini from Egypt has been one of the sole GCF board figures fighting for what I have outlined as the more noble vision for the future of the Green Climate Fund. Let us hope, however, that more join him on the frontlines of that battle, for we can be sure that the support for the competing arguably less noble vision is substantial.

For too long we have allowed corporate power and the interests of a global elite to dictate the direction of climate negotiations and to set the very boundaries of what is possible for us to achieve in response to the burning issues of climate change. It will be a sad day indeed if we allow them to dictate the future of climate finance and, in doing so, overlook both the responsibilities of those historically responsible for climate change, as well as the real and violent impacts that climate change is having and is set to have upon the most vulnerable people across the globe.

Let us hope that this year the air-conditioned halls of yet another COP will not allow us to forget about those for whom climate change is not a matter of mere political negotiation, financial figures and profits, but for whom the effects of climate change shape their ability to enjoy basic human rights, to survive and to lead a decent human life.

1. Many thanks to the Heinrich Boll Foundation for organizing a visiting tour to Washington DC around the players, procedures and politics around climate finance for adaptation action. Many of the insights from this article come from that tour. 

2. From a meeting with Janet Redman organized by the Heinrich Boell Foundation in Washington DC.

The author is a South African Fulbright Scholar pursuing his PhD at the University of Kansas based in the Philosophy Department looking at issues of social and environmental justice. He is also a research associate at the IGERT C-CHANGE Inter-Disciplinary Climate Change Research Unit (http://web.ku.edu/~crgc/IGERT/).

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